Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Heritage: Architecture in the "Flowery Suburb"

Architectural historian and Heritage Toronto board member Marta O'Brien introduced her topic while waiting for a projector to be fixed on 8-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Heritage Toronto generally doesn't put on a lot of lectures. The bulk of its activities are walks or dedications, usually outside. So, perhaps it should not have been surprising that an illustrated lecture entitled "Parkdale: The 'Flowery Suburb'" drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Community Room at the recently rehabilitated Bloor-Gladstone Library in Toronto, Ontario last evening.

The talk was given by Architectural historian and Heritage Toronto board member Marta O'Brien, who had clearly enjoyed her exploration of what is now a somewhat neglected neighbourhood on the western side of town. O'Brien noted that Parkdale had been incorporated as a village in 1874 with a population of just 875; by 1886, it had become a town with four wards, and it was absorbed into Toronto in 1889. I loved the quote from 1881 that only two policemen "one for night, one for day [were] sufficient for public order."

The talk weaved the history of Parkdale with pictures of its architectural landmarks, some of which survive to this day, but others do not. I was struck by one of those losses, Elm Grove constructed in 1836, as it was a regency-style building designed by John Howard that bore a strong resemblance to other Howard buildings in Toronto, including Howard's own surviving home, Colbourne Lodge in High Park, with its large veranda.

The yellow tones of the projected images were only a minor distraction to the talk on Parkdale's architectural history by Marta O'Brien on 8-November-2010

While projector issues delayed the start of the talk and caused a colour shift in the images, this was only a minor distraction to a knowledgeable audience. The Scholes Hotel, built in 1884, was recognizable as being at King at Roncesvalles. The house at 63 O'Hara is a rare wood structure dating from before 1884. Amongst the classic Victorian and Queen Anne homes along King, the 1890-era building at 200 Dunn featured a monogrammed roof which I had never noticed before.

In its earliest days, as its name implied, Parkdale was trying to be a cleaner, healthier alternative to Toronto and some of its other suburbs, as pushed by (amongst others) a man named William Irvin Mackenzie, who became known as the "father of Parkdale" in the 1870's. Thus, there was a certain irony that row houses he opposed, including the 1883 Trenton Terrace and 1889-91 Melbourne Place, both planned by Alway Beecroft, have survived to this day. Perhaps the biggest irony, though, surrounds 103-105 West Lodge. The 1965 structure has become symbolic of the poor landlords in high-rises along Jameson in southern Parkdale and is largely reviled today--yet it won an architectural award prior to its opening.

O'Brien's presentation made me want to go look at many of the surviving structures in Parkdale--but the schedule for Heritage Toronto walks, undoubtedly including the neighbourhood, won't be released until spring.

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